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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
By Jennifer Watts
This year the United States is 246 years old. As a nation, there are symbols to honor its birth. The most recognizable is the flag. Over the years, the flag has changed several times and has been known by different names. Today, the flag is sometimes known as “Old Glory”, but where did that nickname come from? Many people don’t know it has a Tennessee connection. The flag’s nickname goes back to the 1800s to a man living in Nashville, Tennessee. His name was William Driver.
“Old Glory”, National Museum of American History
Driver was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1803. At thirteen, he left home and started a new life on the seas. He eventually became a sea captain and traveled all over the world making money from the tortoise-shell trade. On his twenty-first birthday in 1824, the women and girls of Salem made him a special flag to fly over his ship. The ship was called the Charles Doggett. Legend says that when he unfurled the flag over his ship Driver said, “My ship, my country, and my flag, Old Glory”. He spent twenty years at sea and fourteen of those with “Old Glory” proudly flying from the mast.
Portrait of William Driver donated to museum in 1927 by his daughter Mary Jane Driver Rowland. Tennessee State Museum collection 76.33
In 1836, Driver retired from sea life and returned home to Massachusetts. Sadly, his wife died the next year. He then moved with his three sons to Nashville where his brothers had a store. “Old Glory” came with them. He remarried and had nine more children. He was known to fly his flag on special occasions such as holidays and on election days. In 1860, he had ten more stars and an anchor added to the flag. The stars represented the growing nation and the anchor symbolized his time at sea.
Everything changed for the family in 1861 when the Civil War began. Tennessee joined the Confederate States of America in the summer of that year. The family was then divided. Driver was a Unionist, but two of his sons fought for the Confederacy. During that time, flying a United States flag was forbidden in Nashville. The Confederate Army wanted ALL American flags destroyed! Driver did not want that to happen to his flag, so he hid it. He had it sewn between the layers of an old quilt. The Confederates could not find it.
Tennessee State Capitol during the Civil War. Tennessee State Museum collection 2010.198.1
In February of 1862, the capitol city of Nashville was captured by the Union Army. They wanted a flag to fly over the state Capitol building but no one had one to fly. Driver heard about this and removed “Old Glory” from the quilt. He brought it to the Capitol, and it was flown for all to see. The story got out and newspapers across the county began reporting on it.
Mary Jane Driver Rowland and her husband Charley with “Old Glory”. Tennessee State Museum collection 2006.28
“Old Glory” is now in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It was donated in 1922 by the Driver family. The flag had been in the care of his daughter, Mary Jane Driver Rowland, since her father gave it to her in 1873. He died in 1886 and was buried at the Nashville City Cemetery. By the late 1800s, the story of William Driver’s flag was well known across the nation. To this day, United States flags are called “Old Glory” in tribute to the original, and its role as the first U.S. flag to fly over the recaptured Tennessee State Capitol.
Legend - an old story that is widely known but cannot be proven as true.
Symbolize - something that stands for something else.
Unionist - someone who supported the United States, or Union, during the Civil War.
Tribute - something said, done, or given in recognition of a special event or person in gratitude.
What is the nickname of the American Flag?
Who owned the original flag?
What event made this flag famous?
What is something that you own that you would go to that much trouble to protect? What makes it so important to you?
To learn more about the history of the American flag, read Tennessee State Museum’ s Junior Curator’s Blog about the Thirteen Star Flag. (add link to blog post)
Watch our Lunch with A Curator program about “Old Glory” with Chief Curator and Director of Collections Dan Pomeroy to learn more about this historic flag.
Jennifer Watts is an educator with the Tennessee State Museum.
Tennessee Social Studies Standard(s)
K.12 Identify the following state and national symbols: American flag, Tennessee flag, and the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.
SSP.01 Gather information from a variety of sources, including: printed materials (e.g., literary texts, newspapers, political cartoons, autobiographies, speeches, letters, personal journals), graphic representations (e.g., maps, timelines, charts, artwork), artifacts and media and technology sources.
SSP.05 Develop historical awareness by sequencing past, present, and future in chronological order and understanding that things change over time.
Jenkins, Sally. “How the Flag Came to be Called Old Glory: New research may settle a family feud over the origins of an American icon.” Smithsonian Magazine. October 2013. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-the-flag-came-to-be-called-old-glory-18396/ (accessed February 4, 2021)
“Old Glory flag”: Artifact description. Smithsonian Institute National Museum of American History. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_463145 (accessed February 4, 2021)
Pomeroy, Dan. “Lunch with a Curator: Tennessee Origins of Old Glory.” Tennessee State Museum. https://tnmuseum.org/video-page/videos/tennessee-origins-of-old-glory
“Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue: Facts about the United States Flag”. Smithsonian Institute. https://www.si.edu/spotlight/flag-day/flag-facts (accessed February 4, 2021)